Feminist organizations have unequivocally and unanimously hailed the implementation of the Domestic Violence (DV) Act in India. They claim that this law will empower victims and protect them from abuse.
Most people in their right state of mind would agree that domestic violence in a relationship is not acceptable. It is only fair that for their own mental and emotional health and for the well-being of the children, that the victims be protected from abusive partners.
On the face of it, the law appears to be a blessing for people in abusive or violent relationships. However, a careful analysis reveals that, under the ploy of “women and children welfare”, this law is yet another misguided attempt to enact legislation to grant women legal supremacy over men and to create a society where men are deprived of their rights.
There are three fundamental problems with this law – a) it is overwhelmingly gender biased in favor of women, b) the potential for misuse is astounding and c) the definition of domestic violence is too expansive.
The DV act singles out men as perpetrators of domestic violence and assumes that only women are victims. As per this law, only a woman can file a complaint against her male partner. A man, who is a victim of domestic violence, has no rights under this law. The fact is that it has been comprehensively proven in numerous studies [please see references] that women are no less abusive as men in intimate relationships. Giving such sweeping legal powers to women while withholding protection to male victims is tantamount to systematic legal victimization of men. In the western world, the domestic violence laws are gender neutral and provide protection to the victims, both men and women. The fact that the Indian version explicitly prohibits any male victim to seek relief under this law defies all logic and is beyond comprehension.
The second significant flaw in this law is that it lends itself to such easy misuse that women will find it hard to resist the temptation to “teach a lesson” to their male relatives and will file frivolous and false cases. A similar trend is already being observed in the case of anti-dowry law (498a), which is being misused to such an extent that the Supreme Court has termed it “Legal Terrorism”. To illustrate how easy it is to misuse the DV law, consider the scenarios below. [She means wife/female live-in partner and he means husband/male live-in partner]
a) If she demands any amount of money from him, for any reason whatsoever, he is legally bound to pay that amount in full, failing which he can be imprisoned. Under the pretext of preventing economic abuse of women, this law legalizes the extortion of money by women. Interestingly, if he asks for money from her, he can be jailed for that as well. Furthermore, he is responsible for paying the rent if the couple resides in a shared rented accommodation.
b) As per the law, she retains the right to the residence. This is a very convenient means of getting control of the house regardless of whether she has any legal right on the property. Moreover, if he is booked under DV, he is responsible for paying the rent as well, even though he may not be allowed to live in the house or he might even be in jail.
c) If she decides not to cook and wishes to eat out in a restaurant everyday, he cannot afford not to oblige, lest he invites the DV provision for “not providing food”, for which he could be jailed.
d) If she has an affair and he tries to prevent her from meeting her lover, he could be punished under the DV act, as he is preventing her from meeting someone.
e) He can be booked under the DV act if she feels that she has been insulted. Insult is a relative term, which is totally left to her discretion. Interestingly, if she insults and abuses him verbally or even physically, he does not have any legal recourse in this law
These are just some of the ways in which women can exploit men in a legally permitted manner. The fact that the complaint by a woman will be treated, prima facie, as “true and genuine” opens up a whole new realm of possibilities where innocent men will be accused and implicated in false cases, just because they refuse to give in to her unreasonable demands.
Most people readily agree that the law will be misused. Their counter arguments generally are
a) The number of miuses will be very low OR every law is misused – The objective of any law should be to punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The persecution of innocents cannot be justified in any circumstances. As is the case with 498a, this law will be heavily misused in urban India.
b) If she is happy, then why will she file a complaint – Ah ! So, the man exists at the mercy of the woman. If the wife wants to kick out old parents from home or wants to pursue an affair and should the man dare to object, she can get him incarcerated with alacrity. Any law that forcefully subjects a section of a society to conduct as per the pleasure of another section is deemed oppressive and should be vehemently opposed.
c) There are other provisions to deal with the misuse of this law – The fact is that there are other legal provisions to deal with domestic violence as well. If a strict law is made for a specific purpose, then the provisions for dealing with its misuse should be in the law itself.
The third major flaw in this law is that it provides an all-encompassing definition of domestic violence and some terms (insults, name calling) are extremely subjective. The radical feminists claim that 70% of women in India face domestic violence which comes as no surprise as even an insult is considered domestic violence. Interestingly, they are mum on how many indian men suffer domestic violence using the same criteria. This law strikes at the very foundation of marriage by promoting intolerance and litigation for petty domestic disputes. It is universally recognized that from time to time differences arise in a marriage and sometimes people, both men and women, behave in hurtful ways towards each other. Most people, though, are able to work them out and lead a more or less happy life with their loved one. However, this law makes it very easy to escalate the domestic problems in daily life to such a level that it eventually leads to a breakdown in marriage. Once a man has been accused of domestic violence for a something relatively minor (insult), while he might have been subjected to the same treatment from her, he will perpetually feel threatened by his partner and that is the beginning of the end. This law will lead to more divorces, broken homes and the children will pay the ultimate price by getting deprived of a pleasant childhood.
There are degrees of domestic violence and not all conflicts in a relationship can be termed as domestic violence. This law trivializes the issue of domestic violence by including minor differences in its realm and by explicitly denying protection to half of the population.
The law in its current form is grossly inadequate to tackle the problem of domestic violence. It imposes a lot of responsibility on men, without giving them rights. On the other hand, it gives lots of rights to women without requiring them to be responsible. At the very minimum, it should be made gender neutral, offering protection to both men and women. Also, provisions for stringent punishments need to be incorporated into the law to prevent misuse. Moreover, the law needs to be made more practical by differentiating between various degrees of conflicts and by unambiguously defining what constitutes domestic violence.
The fact is domestic violence is a serious problem and a neutral and unprejudiced law is needed to protect the genuine victims of domestic violence, irrespective of gender. The perpetrators of domestic violence need to be appropriately punished and dealt with. At the same time, protection cannot be withheld from real victims for any reason whatsoever, least of all their gender. One can be certain that there is something sinister about a law, when it intimidates and instills fear in innocent people. When a person who has not committed any crime, begins to fear punishment under the provisions of a law, it is not a law anymore – it is state sponsored terrorism.
1. The US Govt. National family violence surveys of 1975 and 1985 (http://www.ejfi.org/DV/dv-21.htm),
2. Various studies by univ of New Hampshire (http://pubpages.unh.edu/~mas2/ipv-violence-by-women.htm)
3. “When She Was Bad – Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence”, written by Patricia Pearson, a self-described feminist